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  • Writer's pictureMarion Burchell

Covid-19, Cupcakes and Culture

Cupcakes. Many an important event has involved cupcakes. A small, simple, yet delicious and intricate piece of edible art.  It can be wielded in the most courageous of ways, like a guy asking a girl on date he met at the pub the night before by sending one to her work [1].

It has been used as a tiered wedding cake as an alternative to the traditional variety, plus it’s a great way to save on cakeage! In this case it was used by a workplace to say happy birthday to one of their employees - my awesome husband. I have been so impressed by how this company treats its staff. It’s one of those rare workplaces that actually lives their values. It doesn’t pay lip service or leave them as a marketing artefact.  They genuinely walk their talk.

The pandemic has created a moment of truth for corporate cultures around the world.

We have seen this play out with some companies valuing profit over people. Others pivoting as a means of keeping people employed while still having an impact in community. The fact is, right now we are seeing the culture and values of companies clearly expressed though their choices and actions. As companies moved at rapid pace towards using digital technologies to allow working from home, the associated isolation has just as abruptly changed the way of working. It has put workplace culture to the test. Companies that have a culture of embracing change, recognise challenges their people have with isolation and support them, and look towards doing things differently, will have a better transition during this period of change which will drive productivity.

Never before has workplace culture become more important.

An organisation’s culture is its behaviours at scale—basically, what it says and does. Culture is guided by purpose and values. And it will be put to the test by crisis, as is happening right now with Covid-19.” Bain & Company 2020[2].

The shift towards telecommuting and teleworking has exploded, with over two thirds of Australian employers allowing their employees to work remotely[3]. In the US ninety four percent (94%) of people surveyed during April 2020 indicated that some of their workers teleworked, compared to thirty four percent (34%) four weeks earlier[4].

Yet in the accelerated move towards maintaining business, productivity and jobs, there was a need to remember the impact this may have on people and how to maintain (or improve) workplace culture.

This was never so stark than the rate of mental health problems experienced during the same period of time. According to the Medical Journal of Australia, mental health problems were at least twice as prevalent as in non-pandemic circumstances[5].

It looks like teleworking and telecommuting may remain with companies reporting more productive employees (67%), improved morale (64%), reduced absenteeism and employee turnover (57%), and operational cost savings (51%)[2]. In addition, eighty percent (80%) of people surveyed stated they would stay longer with an existing employer if provided the flexibility afforded by remote working[6]. In providing workplace flexibility companies will need to genuinely and consciously consider how it will live its values and purpose through a digitally enabled, physically distanced world.

A great example of a company supporting its people and living their best culture is my husband’s workplace. Like everyone else they continued their team meetings using online meeting apps.

They used digital to connect their people to their culture. They realised they could still live their corporate culture using those same digital tools. Some Friday’s I’ll hear the husband shout “What Disney film had a character called Gaston?” And I’ll know that was corporate quiz Friday, and I’ll see Looney (that’s the husband) ranked 4th on the leader board. But they have gone beyond the corporate quiz. During COVID-19 there was a real focus on making people still feel connected and ensuring they still played a corporate social responsibility role in the mental health of their employees. They did this through regular care packages. Every month there would be a knock at the door, and there would be the delivery guy (sorry so far it’s always been a guy) standing there with a package and a note “A little something to keep you warm during the winter. From your (insert company name) family Just like that nervous, young man sending a cupcake to show his feelings for a young lady he met at a pub the night before, this corporate is showing how much they care for and value their staff by sending care packages during these challenging times. The most recent one? Well that just happened to be a box of cupcakes for the husband’s birthday... which I might just have to help him eat.

About Marion

Marion is a highly experienced and accomplished strategy, innovation and leadership professional with a focus on the enterprise and government sectors. She is a trusted advisor to CEOs and senior executives, providing practical and pragmatic solutions to the challenges they face. Marion is the Managing Director at Azolla Holdings Pty Ltd, a Board member, thought leader and member of an international entrepreneur association.

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